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Martin Durazo
Artist Profile by Shana Nys Dambrot

Fresh off an April show at Gallery Lara in Tokyo, a critically acclaimed and controversial residency at the 18th Street Art Center

Fresh off an April show at Gallery Lara in Tokyo, a critically acclaimed and controversial residency at the 18th Street Art Center this summer, and a much-anticipated solo show currently on view at downtown's CB1 Gallery, Martin Durazo has enjoyed his share of praise and attention lately. A native of LA, a graduate of both Pitzer and UCLA's art programs, and a veteran of the local gallery and museum scene as both artist and curator, Durazo has shown with just about everyone. He's made paintings, drawings, photographs, videos, sculptures, installations, performances, headlines, and more than a little mischief. But his favorite fan is the elderly gentlewoman at the opening reception for the 18th Street residency, "Pain Management 100," who wanted to know if she could use the bong that was part of one of the assemblages.

Durazo's eyes sparkle as he relates this story. "I gave 'residency' a real meaning! Really, though I was so thrilled about that woman. It was an art show, and despite the huge amount of stuff to look at--I turned this place into a giant lounge--everyone was outside. The boundary-crossing seemed to make people nervous." Durazo is known for mixing up public and private experiences in his work: from wall pieces built of operational heating-pads meant to be leaned against for comfort at Otis College in 2002, to crafting luminous sculptures out of personally significant trinkets for a BANK show in 2006, and having an adult-film star DJ his Mark Moore Gallery show in 2007. In "Pain Management 100," the ample 18th Street gallery space was transformed into an authentically untidy media studio/party house, complete with impressive A/V set-ups, beer galore, and some very comfortable couches. By viewing his residency as a form of performance art, he was able to present extreme lifestyle choices as an idiomatic investigation of transgression and beauty, what he calls the "allure of the ceremonial aspects of illicit behavior." Like so much of what Durazo had previously done, all of this constituted a deliberate attempt to "undermine the stuffy preciousness that keeps people apart from art and from each other. I mean, art has screwed your brain up to the point where you canÕt even sit on a couch!"

By comparison, the new paintings for the CB1 show "Plata O Plomo" can at first seem reserved in their rough, Asian-inflected elegance. Reflective silver grounds are both painted and scratched, their surfaces distressed and manipulated into pictorial, gestural abstractions that pack an array of techniques into simple compositions; these breezy, melancholy gems are made of industrial materials like spray paint, wall insulation, and sundry polymers. The show's title refers to the Escobar drug cartel's choice between "silver or lead"--"a bribe or a bullet"--and is in some ways about how people escape repression and fear, especially at the hands of a violent dictator. But it's also a metaphor for self-imposed inhibitions.

Durazo examines human society's dysfunctional and hypocritical power structures in terms of economics, social policy, and aesthetics; lavishing craftsmanship on unconventional, overlooked materials to forge engaging, beautiful objects; and pursuing a network of emotional connections inherent amid apparent disorder. His art posits simple acts like clandestinely drinking beer, listening to loud music, and making art out of whatever is handy as transgressive, revolutionary, and necessary. As the famously provocative writer Henry Miller once observed, "Everything we shut our eyes to, everything we run away from, everything we deny, denigrate or despise, serves to defeat us in the end. What seems nasty, painful, evil, can become a source of beauty, joy, and strength, if faced with an open mind."

"Plata O Plomo" is on view at CB1 Gallery in Los Angeles from October 16 -- November 14, 2010. www.cb1gallery.com

"Pain Management 100" was on view at the 18th Street Art Center in Santa Monica from July 6 -- September 24, 2010. http://18thstreet.org


This article was written for and published in art ltd. magazine art ltd logo sml

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